June 21, 2021

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Rob Weintraub’s Big Ten Alumni Trophies

6 min read
Rob Weintraub's Big Ten Alumni Trophies

Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony is more commonly known as the Ode to Joy. Weintraub’s Ninth Symphony—aka the ninth annual Alumni Awards, my selections for every season’s best NFL player from each of the Power 5 college programs—is similarly a joyous occasion that caps this football season. It’s a great way to gauge the health of the collegiate teams, an indicator of the volatility of the pro game, and, most of all, a fun argument starter.



2012: Vontae Davis, CB, Indianapolis
2013: Whitney Mercilus, DE/LB, Houston
2014: Vontae Davis, CB, Indianapolis
2015: Whitney Mercilus, DE/LB, Houston
2016: Whitney Mercilus, DE/LB, Houston
2017: Clayton Fejedelem, S, Cincinnati
2018: Whitney Mercilus, DE/LB, Houston
2019: Whitney Mercilus, DE/LB, Houston
2020: Dawuane Smoot, DE, Jacksonville

Leading the Jaguars in sacks is almost the very definition of a hollow statistic, but it was nonetheless good enough for Smoot to best five-time award-winner Mercilus, who begged for mercy during his run-out-the-clock season in Houston.


2012: Rodger Saffold, T, St. Louis
2013: Tracy Porter, CB, Oakland
2014: Rodger Saffold, G, St. Louis
2015: Tracy Porter, CB, Chicago
2016: Jordan Howard, RB, Chicago
2017: Rodger Saffold, G, Los Angeles Rams
2018: Rodger Saffold, G, Los Angeles Rams
2019: Rodger Saffold, G, Tennessee
2020: Rodger Saffold, G, Tennessee

Saffold fourpeats, and takes his sixth overall, besting a weak group of Hoosiers. Competition should be coming soon, however, given the renaissance apparently underway in Bloomington.

IOWA (33)

2012: Marshal Yanda, G, Baltimore
2013: Adrien Clayborn, DE, Tampa Bay
2014: Marshal Yanda, G, Baltimore
2015: Marshal Yanda, G, Baltimore
2016: Marshal Yanda, G, Baltimore
2017: Micah Hyde, S, Buffalo
2018: George Kittle, TE, San Francisco
2019: Marshal Yanda, G, Baltimore
2020: Tristan Wirfs, T, Tampa Bay

It seemed like a disaster in the making for the Hawkeye Trophy panel (that is, me), with Marshal Yanda retiring and George Kittle missing half the season to injury. But they are a scrappy, cornfed bunch down in Iowa City, and new candidates rose to the fore, none more so than Wirfs, who protected Tom Brady with aplomb and verve in his freshman season all the way to the Lombardi Trophy. Wirfs was arguably the Super Bowl MVP—now he goes one better with the Iowa Alumni Award.


2012: Torrey Smith, WR, Baltimore
2013: D’Qwell Jackson, LB, Cleveland
2014: Torrey Smith, WR, Baltimore
2015: Stefon Diggs, WR, Minnesota
2016: Yannick Ngakoue, DE, Jacksonville
2017: Yannick Ngakoue, DE, Jacksonville
2018: Yannick Ngakoue, DE, Jacksonville
2019: Stefon Diggs, WR, Minnesota
2020: Stefon Diggs, WR, Buffalo

New team, same result for Diggs, who was third in the NFL among receivers in DYAR, allowing him to capture his third Turtle.


2012: Tom Brady, QB, New England
2013: Tom Brady, QB, New England
2014: Tom Brady, QB, New England
2015: Tom Brady, QB, New England
2016: Tom Brady, QB, New England
2017: Tom Brady, QB, New England
2018: Tom Brady, QB, New England
2019: Tom Brady, QB, New England
2020: Tom Brady, QB, Tampa Bay

Year in and year out, the easiest part of assembling these awards is cutting and pasting Touchdown Tommy into the Michigan spot. Only this season, I had to change his professional affiliation for the first time. Plenty of room in his west Florida manse for yet another Wolverine Award, which continue to outpace his Lombardi Trophies, 9-7.


2012: Domata Peko, DT, Cincinnati
2013: Le’Veon Bell, RB, Pittsburgh
2014: Le’Veon Bell, RB, Pittsburgh
2015: Kirk Cousins, QB, Washington
2016: Le’Veon Bell, RB, Pittsburgh
2017: Le’Veon Bell, RB, Pittsburgh
2018: Kirk Cousins, QB, Minnesota
2019: Kirk Cousins, QB, Minnesota
2020: Jack Conklin, T, Cleveland

A new face takes the Sparty Trophy as Conklin lived up to his rich free-agent contract in spades.


2012: Eric Decker, WR, Denver
2013: Eric Decker, WR, Denver
2014: Eric Decker, WR, New York Jets
2015: Eric Decker, WR, New York Jets
2016: De’Vondre Campbell, LB, Atlanta
2017: De’Vondre Campbell, LB, Atlanta
2018: De’Vondre Campbell, LB, Atlanta
2019: De’Vondre Campbell, LB, Atlanta
2020: Antoine Winfield, S, Tampa Bay

At last, some pro Gophers have dug their way out of Sunday mediocrity to impact the NFL. Indeed, the Buccaneers sported a pair of them; though Tyler Johnson only began making his contributions late in the season, Winfield’s were immediate and of far greater import.


2012: Ndamukong Suh, DT, Detroit
2013: Lavonte David, LB, Tampa Bay
2014: Ndamukong Suh, DT, Detroit
2015: Richie Incognito, G, Buffalo
2016: Lavonte David, LB, Tampa Bay
2017: Lavonte David, LB, Tampa Bay
2018: Ndamukong Suh, DT, Los Angeles Rams
2019: Lavonte David, LB, Tampa Bay
2020: Lavonte David, LB, Tampa Bay

Look at the professional alums from Nebraska—Lamar Jackson, Chris Jones, Stanley Morgan! Alas, these guys are namesakes, not the actual All-Pros. In terms of competing for the Husker (du) Trophy, as usual it came down to (Lavonte) David versus Goliath—or as he’s better known, Ndamukong Suh. The Buc stopped with David once again this season for the fourth time in five years.


2012: Barry Cofield, DT, Washington
2013: Zach Strief, T, New Orleans
2014: Zach Strief, T, New Orleans
2015: Zach Strief, T, New Orleans
2016: Zach Strief, T, New Orleans
2017: Trevor Siemian, QB, Denver
2018: Anthony Walker, LB, Indianapolis
2019: Anthony Walker, LB, Indianapolis
2020: Anthony Walker, LB, Indianapolis

Make it a trifecta for the sound and steady Walker, who at least was slightly inconvenienced, if not seriously threatened, this season by defensive end Ifeadi Odenigbo of Minnesota.


2012: Zach Boone, G, San Francisco
2013: James Laurinaitis, LB, St. Louis
2014: Cameron Heyward, DE, Pittsburgh
2015: Malcolm Jenkins, S, Philadelphia
2016: Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Dallas
2017: Marshon Lattimore, CB, New Orleans
2018: Michael Thomas, WR, New Orleans
2019: Michael Thomas, WR, New Orleans
2020: Chase Young, DE, Washington

The only school that can approach Alabama in numbers and pro impact is Ohio State. As usual, competition for the award was fierce, with Thomas’ injuries forcing him from the running. The Bosa brothers were likewise impaired, though Joey played through pain to at least threaten to take the award. A pair of runners, Elliott and newbie J.K. Dobbins, were in the hunt, along with Lattimore, wideouts Curtis Samuel of Carolina and Terry McLaurin of Washington, and Cincinnati end Sam Hubbard. It came down to the trenches, with Green Bay center Corey Linsley trying to block out both rookie sensation Young and Heyward. In the end the other guys were all chasing Chase.


2012: Cameron Wake, DE/LB, Miami
2013: Tamba Hali, DE/LB, Kansas City
2014: Cameron Wake, DE/LB, Miami
2015: NaVorro Bowman, LB, San Francisco
2016: Sean Lee, LB, Dallas
2017: Cameron Wake, DE/LB, Miami
2018: Saquon Barkley, RB, New York Giants
2019: Chris Godwin, WR, Tampa Bay
2020: Allen Robinson, WR, Chicago

Suddenly, Penn State is Wideout U, with Robinson excelling despite iffy quarterback play, edging out Godwin, whose signal-caller was somewhat better…


2012: Bernard Pollard, S, Baltimore
2013: Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans
2014: Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans
2015: Kawann Short, DT, Carolina
2016: Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans
2017: Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans
2018: Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans
2019: Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans
2020: Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans

Drew goes out short of the Lombardi Trophy but wins the next best thing, the Boiler Trophy, for the seventh time and fifth year in a row to (presumably) close his wonderful career.


2012: Ray Rice, RB, Baltimore
2013: Jeremy Zuttah, C, Tampa Bay
2014: Devin McCourty, S, New England
2015: Devin McCourty, S, New England
2016: Devin McCourty, S, New England
2017: Devin McCourty, S, New England
2018: Devin McCourty, S, New England
2019: Devin McCourty, S, New England
2020: Devin McCourty, S, New England

Logan Ryan’s team was better, but McCourty wins the Alumni Trophy over him once again to make it seven straight awards from the State University of New Jersey.


2012: J.J. Watt, DE, Houston
2013: Russell Wilson, QB, Seattle
2014: J.J. Watt, DE, Houston
2015: J.J. Watt, DE, Houston
2016: Travis Frederick, C, Dallas
2017: Russell Wilson, QB, Seattle
2018: Russell Wilson, QB, Seattle
2019: Russell Wilson, QB, Seattle
2020: T.J. Watt, OLB, Pittsburgh

Ryan Ramczyk had another phenomenal season, and Jonathan Taylor joined the mix for the Wisky. But in the end it came down to Wilson vs. T.J. Watt. Wilson built a large early lead, and positional advantage seemed to cinch it up. But Watt’s awesome body of work, including his league-leading 15 sacks, and a loud boost from his brother J.J. allowed the younger Watt to slip past Russ, whose campaign ended in disappointment.